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Calling back the men's dress shirt collar

For men's dress shirts, the collar is the key to a diversified wardrobe and personal style

The traditional button-down shirt collar made famous by Brooks Brothers
The traditional button-down shirt collar made famous by Brooks Brothers

The first thing you probably notice about a dress shirt, that ubiquitous part of Western formal-wear, is the collar. Some believe collars impart a stiff formality—in reality, they frame your face.

That’s an important function, especially now that you are only visible waist-up during formal online interactions. With office spaces not fully functional yet, the suit and blazers slip off and the ties come undone as you work from home in summer. While the suit’s shoulder pads and the tie’s smooth slickness are symbols of power dressing at work, they might now be replaced by the structure and shape of the collar, or even the lack of it.

Historically, stiff collars date back to the Middle Ages, around the 15th century. Their essential function was to reinforce the shirt’s end seams to prevent ripping. They became bigger over the next 200 years; collars became larger and unattached, starched collars called ruffs became a symbol of rank in the social hierarchy. Sounak Sen Barat, designer at House of Three, a Bengaluru-based sustainable label, says: “These collars represented the aristocracy; the rich, powerful, entitled and privileged. It is why they influenced fashion."

A classic collar shape, the pointed shirt collar’s long, vertical wings are best used to make a broad frame lean
A classic collar shape, the pointed shirt collar’s long, vertical wings are best used to make a broad frame lean (Photo:

It was in the 1930s that the terms “white collar" and “blue collar" became prominent as indicators of non-manual and manual labour, or the middle and working classes, respectively. “Today’s contemporary avatar of the formal, crisp shirt collar holds the same emotions of power, stability and structure. Look at the tall, stiff collars on the lawyer’s robe. The beauty of fashion is that there are certain physical forms that evoke a psychological emotion," says Barat.

Neverthless, collars now function mainly to diversify your wardrobe and personal style. Different styles of collars can help break the perception of the collar’s stuffiness and make your style more elegant and approachable.


The type of collar you should wear depends on its features: height, how high a collar sits on your neck from the fold down to its tip; the size, which is how big or small your collar should be; the spread, the distance between the two points of the collar; and stiffness, which depends on how thickly the collar has been glued to its interlining fabric (also known as fusing).

Acutaway collar’s large wings and severe angles draw the eyes horizontally.
Acutaway collar’s large wings and severe angles draw the eyes horizontally.

Menswear designer Troy Costa says: “Collar styles have multiplied. The thumb rule for workwear was that when the ties were broad and thick, the more spread out the collars, and if the ties were slimmer, then the collars were less spread out." The idea was to keep everything in proportion.

A modern way to choose collar sizes and types is to match them with the shape of your face. A slimmer person could wear a cut-away or widespread collar (both of which have severely angled-away points), whereas a bigger person could wear a pointed or arrow collar (characterized by narrower space between the collar points or a relatively taller neckband), Costa suggests. When it comes to eveningwear, the point is to show off the tie prominently. “So, the pinned (with a pin between the collar points) or tab (with an underlying band underneath the collar leaves that fastens at the top button) collars, which by design elevate the tie and let it drop seamlessly," says Costa. The pin adds that extra detail which catches the light. “The button-down collar is soft and lends a more casual vibe…while on the other end of the spectrum in formal evening wear, the wing-tip collar has been standard with the tuxedo," says Costa.

The only distinction between the club and classic collars is rounded points
The only distinction between the club and classic collars is rounded points (Photo:

What’s not so common now—though Costa is a fan—is the club collar, with its rounded collar points. The style is used in the Winchester shirt (where the collar and cuffs are white, while the shirt has a pattern).

One popular contemporary style is the Mandarin collar. In the West, it is considered too casual but it has merged with Eastern sensibilities to form a unique inflection point in India, where it’s being worn for workwear and formal events.

It’s a great choice for the tropical climate but Costa isn’t thrilled by it. “In a country like India, the kurta has already adopted that style, which is so common," he says, though he has made the shirt for several clients who attend events in India since it gives the ensemble an “Indian flavour". “They (the clients) are most often from the corporate or finance fields and don’t prefer the kurta," he says.

Your choice of collar can also be influenced by the shirt fabric. Akshay Narvekar, founder of The Bombay Shirt Company, says, “If you are going for something summery, like a linen shirt or print, it’s best to stick to casual collar styles, like the button-down or Mandarin." For non-traditional collars, he suggests a solid-colour shirt. “Then the collar is the centrepiece of your shirt, and it stands out," Narvekar says.


Costa believes the button-down collar will continue to be popular owing to its laid-back design. Menswear designers Ashish N. Soni and Costa agree that the polo collar—invented by tennis player René Lacoste in 1933—will become a “go-to" choice for casual workwear since it is knitted. Soni says, “Comfort is key now, so clothing at large will become more casual. At the same time, I am focusing on trying to create clothes with subtle details that are waist-up." These will include, he says, details like tucks, hand-tacks and etches.

The detachable collar is making a comeback.
The detachable collar is making a comeback.

A style that might make a comeback is the detachable collar, which was invented in the 1830s for a functional purpose. While the shirt was usually worn under a waistcoat and was hidden, collars and cuffs were visible, and changing the collar gave a worn shirt a fresh look. Costa has been making shirts with detachable collars since last year. “The Mandarin collar has the buttons and the detachable collars have the buttonholes. That’s how they are attached," he says.

Barat says: “(At House of Three), we are working on the concept of shirts for men and women with detachable collars and cuffs. The base of the collar is a Mandarin one. The concept is economical and practical, where one shirt can be worn with several collars. The thought of mindful consumption is what leads it through."

The collar may be a classic part of the dress shirt but there’s perhaps no better time to experiment with it.

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